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The First Pancake

For every stack of fluffy, buttery, golden pancakes, what immediately preceded it was an ugly, first pancake.

It’s almost inevitable that the very first pancake of any batch is going to be ugly, and poorly executed. The pan isn’t hot enough, or perhaps it’s too hot. Maybe you greased the pan a little too much, or maybe you went a little too light on the non-stick spray or butter.

In any event, while it probably tastes just fine, the very first pancake is usually not your best work.

I have been away from Becoming Superhuman since September 5th. I consciously chose to eschew this project — temporarily — to instead focus on my role as father and husband with the arrival of our second child. Sleep and sanity have both been noticeably diminished.

After a little more than a month completely off, I am back, and this is my first pancake.

Starting Again, Amidst Uncertainty

Life, thankfully, is rarely monotonous.

Unexpected challenges or setbacks appear without warning…like the various leaks my home seems to spring on me or the appliances that break at the worst time. Exciting opportunities come crashing into your office like the Kool-Aid man, often when you are down to your last dollar or when you are double booked every hour on the hour. And, new ideas materialize from nothingness, leaving you to decide whether to hold on tight and pursue it, or let it fade back into obscurity from whence it came.

All of this, while often stressful, does keep things interesting. Unfortunately, the process of putting all of these variables back in order can be quite difficult, especially if your underlying circumstances already keep you busy.

If you’re anything like me recently, you may be wondering: how do we get back up to speed from a cold start or manage our energy and momentum amidst uncertainty?

Here’s the four steps I’m taking to get back up to full speed following a month off.

Step 1: Consult the face in the mirror

I have ADHD, and (undiagnosed, but likely) low support needs Autism.

I share this because as I explain my strategies for managing energy and momentum, it’s important to note that my advice is tinted by the unique way that my brain processes the world around me.

tray of hotcakes

I am open about my conditions and hope that doing so helps de-stigmatize the labels that are too often used to marginalize and malign, consequently leading people to mask their needs. Those who do not feel safe to set boundaries or ask for the accommodations they need, may stop searching for solutions. By shedding the stigma of these labels, we give everyone the freedom to truly investigate how their own minds work and hopefully find ways to drop the mask, show up powerfully and authentically, and find methods for pursuing what’s important to them.

This is important because the first step to developing strategies for getting back up to speed or managing our energy, is to understand ourselves. I cannot give you the full list of questions to get to know yourself as it could fill an entire book. I’ll just encourage you to become intensely curious about how your brain works, what factors impact your energy and focus, and what purpose is at your core?

Step 2: Honor your totems and routines

pancake with blueberry

To trigger a work session, I like music without lyrics. Some people like silence, or the Top 40, or TV in the background.

I like to work late at night following a short nap after dinner — I like the darkness and quiet, and my mind is at its sharpest. I prefer working for LONG uninterrupted stretches of time because I know that taking a break after 20 minutes or an hour into my work is almost guaranteed to destroy my focus. Some people like to work first thing in the morning when their energy and focus are at its peak. They may need to take frequent breaks to maintain or strengthen their focus and may prefer to break their work up into small chunks to be completed over time.

I like to have my red bottle of water or a cup of coffee nearby before putting on my noise canceling headphones. Some people need a paper day planner or a quick glance at their email.

The point is that everyone is different. Whether it’s free throws, falling asleep, or completing a project, it’s helpful to know how to send triggers to your brain that signal something needs to happen.

Find your triggers. Find your routines. Honor them.

Step 3: Establish and communicate boundaries

Because of my attention, focus, memory, and sensory issues, I need certain things to be able to even function, let alone thrive.

I am fanatical about my calendar and task list as I require external systems to process and understand time, and remember tasks — I can’t do it in my head. Failure to structure my time or capture my tasks can leave me feeling anxious and even lead to executive dysfunction where nothing can or will get accomplished. When my schedule is altered or delayed, I may become irritable or upset. So long as I use the systems, I’m fine. Too much variation or breakdown, and I start to fall apart.

When I’m in my hyperfocus, any significant interruption can cause a catastrophic system failure that can best be described as a psychological car crash. To mitigate this, I wear noise cancelling headphones and make sure to let those around me know about the duration of time I need to be without interruption. When I’m able to lean into the hyperfocus, I can accomplish a great deal in a short period.

Whether it’s my wife, children, friends, business partners, or clients, I make sure to let people what I need. I ensure everyone knows the importance of dates and times being added to my calendar, or holding me accountable to add tasks to my system, and of protecting my time, uninterrupted. Failure on my part to communicate these needs and boundaries can leave me feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and even emotionally distressed.

pancakes with strawberries and blueberries on top

In coming back to work, I’ve had long conversations with my wife and business partner to establish my needs in these first few weeks.

Whatever you need to be happy, healthy, and effective, it’s important to communicate those needs and boundaries — when it’s safe. If you don’t know what those needs and boundaries should be, go back and repeat Steps 1 and 2.

Step 4: Define and practice letting go

One thing I’ve learned about having kids is that they will not follow a schedule and they likely don’t understand your boundaries — see point above about the negative repercussions I experience. That said, getting angry at them for upsetting the rigid systems and processes I require, is both unproductive for me, and potentially harmful for them.

plate of Mickey Mouse pancake

As a result, I’ve had to interrupt my own emotional reaction and learn to harness my patience and tolerance. This is a matter of remembering my priorities. While writing, designing, recording, and consulting are all vitally important things for me to do, my role as a parent and husband take precedence.

In order to get moving from a cold start, and manage my energy and momentum, I have to be really clear about the exceptions to my forward momentum. I had to define what I would make allowances for.

If you don’t know your exceptions to your boundaries, then you haven’t defined your boundaries well enough yet.

The only thing left to do

After you’ve done all of that work, the only thing left to do, is make that first pancake. Get back out there. This post was my way of getting started.

Working on the next pancake

brown pastry on white ceramic plate

This was my first time writing in over a month. It took me nearly 4 times as long to write this post as it normally does. I’m writing this at night between 9pm – 3am, and my focus was shot with every noise coming from the crib and every feeding or diaper interruption. Honestly, it was brutal writing this piece.

Being out of practice, I slipped between the first, second and third person throughout this post. I probably have a few typos or strange phrases in here.

But, I’m giving myself grace by saying that this is the first pancake.

I’m working on getting myself back into the flow of things, but I do hope that you took away at least two things from this post.

  1. I hope you thought about your own process for when you get stuck or come back from time off.
  2. I hope I’ve encouraged you to both investigate your own brain, and be more curious about how those around you see and process the world.

If I didn’t accomplish either of those, hopefully, I at least got you in the mood for pancakes.

How this relates to Becoming Superhuman

I believe that Becoming Superhuman requires a deep understanding of oneself as well as deep empathy and intense curiosity about others. As you learn more about yourself and others, you will naturally develop a more nuanced picture of the world.

As a result you will hopefully take a more inclusive approach to your work and your relationships. The more shades of gray you see in the world, the more likely you will be to take all advice with the requisite “grain of salt,” even when the authors and experts don’t include caveats or qualifications. Finally, this empathy and curiosity, both internally and externally, will give you a more well-rounded perspective, make you less likely to fall for scams, and empower you to find solutions that map to your unique strengths and weaknesses.

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